Published today to SignOfContradiction.Blogspot.ca
Catholicism in Decline
In the agonizing battle for the soul of the Catholic Church taking place daily in our midst—a phenomenon many ardent Catholics characterize as the “culture wars”—we see a steady stream of articles, news reports and commentary on how the Catholic Church is losing its hold on, and influence over, our society and even its own members, to the alarming detriment of Western civilization itself. The numbers and statistics certainly seem to back up such a view.
Yet I have a feeling a good number of high and well placed Catholics, especially media types, academics, and even many clergy, would take issue with the above assessment, claiming there is no real crisis to fuss about, only an ongoing challenge for the Church to remain relevant to our modern age, and a challenge for which we have every hope of overcoming, especially with our new Pope who is winning over interest and hearts in grand fashion.
But if there be no worrying crisis in the Church today methinks I must be struck with madness. One of my busiest blog tags is Catholic Church crisis.
What then is the precise nature and origin of this waning power or collapse of the Church of Jesus Christ in our society and time? Again, there will be disagreement in answering this question. A quick glance at the news reports however would reveal a preponderance of stories and incidents arising from a failure to teach, implement and enforce Catholic doctrine. In many cases we discover a blatant denial or disrespect of Church teaching. Such failures are always urgent matters demanding address by the local Bishop but, even so, many times we see Bishops ignoring the problems or even contributing to them.
Some traditional minded Catholics point to the dumbing down of the liturgy since the late 1960’s following Vatican II as the fatal flaw precipitating the self-destruction of the Church. They contend that a disrespect and irreverence has crept into the practice of the faith due to a rupture with the sacred liturgy of the ages. Those who argue with such a premise can hardly argue, however, against the indicators of wholesale apostasy of the faith since the Novus Ordo has ruled the Catholic day.
Knocking On The Bishops’ Door
So it all comes back to the doorstep of the Bishops? Yes, regardless of root causes of our current predicament, too many Catholic Bishops are failing in their duties as shepherds of God’s people. None of the kinds of symptoms outlined above take place in a vacuum but always reflect back to the oversight of the Bishop, a successor of the Apostles. If there’s one tag and theme on my blog postings busier than Catholic Church Crisis, it would be Catholic Bishops. Likewise my Twitterfeed often suffers from indigestion due to the hashtag #WakeUpBishops.
But how do we know they are they failing in their duties? Because, as I’ve pointed out above, practically every troubling indicator originates from or points to a breakdown or neglect of teaching, or its practice or its enforcement. The Bishop is the governor and chief teacher of his diocese, reporting to the Pope every five years but accountable only to Christ as His Successor in his See. Do not imagine that Bishops act in the name of the Pope; rather, they exercise their ministry "personally in the name of Christ." How much less are they required to kowtow to a Bishops’ Conference!
Is the Bishop then responsible for how the souls under his care actually behave as Catholics? In a clear and dramatic fashion, YES. The whole point is that the Bishop guides and helps the faithful understand their Christian faith and how to concretely translate it into action. Clear enough?
Bishops Must Obey God, Not Man
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29
The first Bishop, Peter, along with his fellow Bishops, declared: “We must obey God rather than men.” Can any sane person doubt that for the preaching of Christ and His Gospel to be effective, men must obey God more than they obey man; and more especially so, the hand-picked preachers of Christ?
Surely our Lord Jesus Christ is greatly wounded and offended when His Apostles prove they fear man more than they do God, and as a result His sheep are scattered. But is it correct to say that the Bishops of our day, His Apostles, do not fear God?
Of course they fear God, some of them greatly, but when push comes to shove, too many of them fear man more than God. When a course of action is predicted to upset or anger people, regardless even if it be a matter of Catholic doctrine—which is nothing less than the mind of Christ—too many Bishops fold and take alternate action, to the point of disrespecting or altogether denying Catholic truth. Thus, for too many Bishops, the only teachings “in fashion” are the pleasant and non-controversial ones.
Why would a Bishop betray Christ so? Many factors could be cited but since my focus in this article is not on that particular question, I will suggest a few of the more obvious factors: the discerning of a priestly vocation but with mixed motives; a weak and compromised spiritual formation, especially at the seminary level and weakened further by the laxity of our times; living out a vocation with little or no value placed on asceticism and self-denial; a rebellious and proud spirit; an inordinate number of rebellious clergy feeding on and fueling other rebels; rebels blackmailing one another; a compromised spirituality lacking in both moral courage and also power to confront evil, even when recognized. In short, the leaven of evil has corrupted the loaf and priestly standards have crumbled.
When Bishops Fear Men
It’s not rocket science; Bishops prove they fear men more than God when they fail to properly expound or defend the timeless truth of Catholic doctrine. Again, I repeat: “practically every troubling indicator originates from or points to a breakdown or neglect of teaching, or its practice or its enforcement.”
Accordingly, when Bishops:
- fail to teach and inform the faithful on the most urgent and dangerous evils of the day, including guidance for the faithful on current events which might corrupt morals or otherwise publicly challenge Church teaching,
- intentionally omit the hard teachings of the Gospel, the very same teachings often criticized and openly attacked by unbelievers and worldly powers,
- face controversy, unpopularity, criticism, alienation and even persecution if they stand with Christ and His Church on a particular subject, yet choose to remain silent or to dilute the message of Christ accordingly to minimize opposition,
- fail to undertake and safeguard in their See a program of education that will bolster the faithful in the whole counsel of God so they can stand against the errors of the day,
- in the face of known dissent or heresy or public controversy or scandal by an individual or group, fail to make a precise, appropriate and adequate statement of correction based on Catholic doctrine,
- discipline or chasten their own priests for taking traditional stances on doctrine or practice of the Catholic faith,
…they fear men more than God.
Shouldn’t Bishops Focus On Love And Compassion?
Some foolish Christians imagine that Church doctrine and laws spoil the “spontaneous” work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and we should instead focus on love and compassion. Unfortunately many Bishops seem to believe the same thing, judging by their day to day actions and disregard for Church law.
Again, this should not be rocket science. Consider what is termed “the supreme law of the Church.” A grade school student could tell you that a “supreme law” sounds like a mighty important law, the one law above every other law, one that you never break. Is it even remotely possible that Bishops don’t know about it or can escape scrutiny when they fail to uphold it?
Historically, canon law is the oldest continuously functioning legal system in the western world. Fortunately, throughout Church history some of the world's finest legal, theological, and pastoral minds have contributed to the formation of canon law, all trying to serve one goal, that expressed in the final norm of the Code, Canon 1752: "...having before one's eyes the salvation of souls, which is always the supreme law of the Church." [Source]
So the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls. Holy Moly, that sounds like good old fashioned missionary work! So, guess what the pre-eminent goal of the Bishop is? You got it, it’s saving souls. It’s missionary work. And missionary work is just what our Lord Jesus had in mind for His Apostles, the Bishops, when He pronounced The Great Commission:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the necessary connection when it emphasizes that salvation, and the missionary work that precedes it, must be grounded in truth.
851 Missionary motivation. It is from God's love for all men that the Church in every age receives both the obligation and the vigor of her missionary dynamism, "for the love of Christ urges us on."343 Indeed, God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth";344 that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary.
Viewing the teaching ministry of the Church through the lens of the salvation of souls renders each and every teaching failure as a detrimental event impacting the eternal destiny of possibly every soul under the care of a Bishop, whether Catholic or not.
When you think of your Bishop what image springs immediately to mind? Is it obvious to you and to the whole world that he’s the point man for Jesus Christ and for salvation for EVERY soul in his diocese? Is he seen as the city’s top missionary? Such would be the traditional, perennial view in Church history. Or is he known simply as another social justice preacher in town, a good guy Bishop, an organizer, an administrator, even a top gun administrator?
Jesus Christ proclaimed:
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. John 8:28
Since love for God and for Jesus Christ necessarily involves obedience to his commands (If ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15) we must of necessity know His teaching. His teaching is the doctrine and laws of His Bride, the Church. When the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy on his duties as Bishop take note of what he was also saying to EVERY Bishop to follow:
1 I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming, and his kingdom: 2 Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. 3 For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: 4 And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. 5 But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. Be sober. 2 Tim 4:1-5
So, to summarize once again: Preaching, teaching, evangelizing with the truth of Christ is the trademark of the Bishop. Is there constant and tireless teaching? reproving (taking to task, criticizing, correcting)? entreating (asking earnestly, beseeching)? and rebuking (sharply criticizing, reprimanding)? The salvation of souls demands all this and more.
The idea that a Bishop could carry out his calling without a constant and sometimes deathly fight against error and evil—everything opposed to the truth—was unheard of, even unimaginable, throughout the history of the Church. In fact, it would run counter to the very Word of God. For example, Jude's sole intention was to caution against depraved teaching and to exhort the faithful to maintain the teaching of the Apostles.
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. Jude 1:3
Teach The Faithful Or Watch Them Lose their Souls
We have seen that the salvation of souls demands that a Bishop, an Apostle of Christ, place a very high emphasis indeed on teaching. The clear alternative leaves souls in their ignorance and sin, heading for a Christ-less eternity. Bishops, like true shepherds, must protect their flocks from any and all sin—particularly the grave, mortal kinds—which would shut them out of heaven. The supreme law of the Church now hinges on this all important duty: identifying and warning against sin and teaching/preaching on the remedy for sin, i.e. obedience to Christ and His Gospel.
What now comes into focus is the eternal struggle between good and evil, between heaven and hell, between the devil and God—and souls hang in the balance. And this is precisely where the pressure comes upon Bishops. Those who are faithful to Christ and His Gospel will protect their flocks at all costs, presenting the truth of Christ and His Church in all its fullness, without compromise, regardless of the opposition from the world, the flesh and the devil. And we may be certain as well that such worthy Bishops make it crystal clear to their Priests that they expect of them the very same standard. They understand what is at stake. Because when it comes right down to the personal level, a Bishop who fails in this most primary duty can be quite certain that the Lake of Fire is his portion for eternity.
A worthy Bishop fears for the souls of his flock, watching constantly for “certain persons” who “have crept in unnoticed” and perverted Christ’s teaching. Ungodly persons and influences are constantly seeking to erode the faith of believers and remove them from the friendship of God. Nothing is more fatal to the faith than sins labelled as deathly, i.e. mortal sins. The Bishop is especially alert to warn his people to avoid at all costs any actions or behaviour that might lead to grave or mortal sin, because these cut the believer off in his/her relationship with God. A true Bishop would no more remain silent or restrained while the evil of mortal sin threatened to overtake one of his flock than would a mother look the other way when a stranger was about to snatch her only child.
Still less would a worthy Bishop fail to act should he realize that, because of his silence or restraint, any of his sheep risked the loss of their eternal salvation through confusion, misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the Catholic faith. Immediately every possible precaution would be taken to clarify the truth and preserve that soul from sin, whether by means of a personal conversation or by general communique issued throughout the diocese. If a soul were found to be persisting in actions or behaviour known to be dangerous to his/her spiritual condition, likewise a Bishop—or his Priest—would feel compelled to correct the sinner and instruct in the pathway back to God. Every soul is under the Bishop’s care. To lose one soul to the devil through his negligence, hesitation, timidity or fear would endanger his own eternal destiny. Such is the seriousness of sin and of salvation to a worthy Bishop.
This is no fabricated notion of spiritual oversight. Hardly: this is simply the Catholic faith at work at its highest levels and most basic calling, saving men and making them holy. Holiness and sin are mutually exclusive of one another.
And this is no “severe” standard. Not unless the Catechism asks more than Christ Himself asked. No, salvation in Christ has not changed, nor has salvation from sin.
Recall the promises made at a Bishop’s ordination ceremony:
After the homily, the Bishop-elect is asked to make a number of promises that he will commit his whole life to love and serve the Church. The promises recall the three "tasks" of the bishop:
• to teach and preach;
• to be a true shepherd and guide to those in his care; and
• to help them grow in holiness (through celebration of the sacraments, through prayer and in other ways).
A Fuller Appreciation of Evil Is Urgent
Much of the conversation about the role of Bishops necessarily centres on error, sin and evil because, quite simply,
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
Therefore every evil is to be exposed and avoided.
True shepherds will do everything possible, including at times the proper discipline, to prevent the flock going astray. In the real world of nature going astray meant almost certain death for a sheep and thus the need for both rod and staff. It was no accident our Lord used the symbol so often of sheep and shepherd to describe His relationship to us.
All sin is evil but mortal sin is considered especially so since it involves a known choice to commit a grave violation against the Creator. Furthermore, some actions qualify as particularly insidious forms of evil, regardless of the intention of the individual involved, and are termed intrinsic evils. In other words, these actions are so contrary to God’s will in their essence that whether or not the person is aware of the evil of his/her action, God has been gravely offended. A list of such evils would include, among many others and in no particular order, direct willed abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, contraception, rape, self-abuse, embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), human cloning, slavery, human trafficking, polygamy, lying, prostitution, homosexual acts, and use of pornography.
Could we imagine a worthy successor of the Apostles as anyone other than a man entirely consumed with keeping his flock free of sin and every kind of evil, more especially the subtle and insidious kind that might gravely offend—possibly without even their knowledge—the God and Saviour whose Blood purchased their salvation? Impossible. After all, the Chief Shepherd whom he loves and serves and after whom he models his ministry longs to accomplish exactly the same for every sheep in his flock.
Now to him who is able to preserve you without sin, and to present you spotless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jude 1:24
Yet now he hath reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unspotted, and blameless before him… Colossians 1:22
For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2
Clearly, the reality of intrinsic evils cannot be avoided in any consideration of practical holiness. A little more should be said about this often subtle defilement and the following street-wise definition makes the point:
Intrinsic evil…an act that is always bad, always sinful, always always always. Never good, never appropriate, never useful, never, never, never. It is an act that is ALWAYS SINFUL in every time, every epoch, every era, every age, every place, every situation, every every every. There is NO GREY AREA! No doubt, no question that these acts (acts that are intrinsically evil) are always and everywhere and for everybody and for every situation, SINFUL and NEVER ACCEPTABLE. [Source]
The Bishop Is Accountable as Chief Help to Holiness
The follower of Christ is taught by the Chief Shepherd (by means of the Holy Spirit) and His Vicar, the Bishop, to shun all sin and evil not only because these offend God our Creator and Redeemer but also because the wounds of Christ our Saviour were a direct consequence of our sinful, evil ways. The lifelong pursuit of holiness, of separation onto the Lord, demands an ever-vigilant and continual spiritual battle by the believer to defeat the power of sin and evil while travelling “this vale of tears”. The Bishop will ultimately answer to God for his role in shepherding and assisting the believer to victory in this task. If he fails to “preach the word: (to) be instant in season, out of season: (to) reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine” the Catholic will likely be overcome by the world, the flesh and the devil and could very well lose his/her soul.
In regard to evils, it must be emphasized again that Catholic doctrine demands a dual approach by the Bishop. He must not only educate and train the believer to always choose the good and reject the sin, but he must also warn and teach of those insidious, intrinsic forms of evil which are so gravely opposed to God yet may be committed irrespective of the intentions of that believer, who is perhaps aided and overcome somewhat by cultural norms. Where success is lacking, God is sorely grieved and offended, the believer encounters a serious obstacle to holiness, worse evils—perhaps even sacrilege and blasphemy—appear on the horizon, and the Holy Name of God, as well as the Christian Church, is exposed to scandal and ridicule.
The solemn—and frightful—responsibilities of the office of Bishop can be glimpsed in a short portion of a conversation between the future Pope Pius X and his mother upon his appointment to this office:
But Don Guiseppe was weighed down by the thought of the heavy responsibilities of a bishop’s office. He tried to tell his mother of his feelings. “Mama,” he said one day, “do you realize what it means to be a Bishop—to have in my care the salvation of so many souls? Think of the responsibility! Pray for me Mama. For if I neglect my duty I shall lose my soul!”
But Evil Is Winning the Day in the Church of Christ
Referring back to my introduction:
What then is the precise nature and origin of this waning power or collapse of the Church of Jesus Christ in our society and time?
…as I’ve pointed out above, practically every troubling indicator originates from or points to a breakdown or neglect of teaching, or its practice or its enforcement.
No such breakdown has been more pervasive and catastrophic to Catholicism in the West than that resulting from a denial of the Catholic teaching on the evil of contraceptive acts. As many as 90% of today’s practicing Catholics at some point in time have “legitimized”, by direct actions or silence, the intrinsically evil and mortally sinful practice of artificial contraception. In short, Catholics live with and accept the practice of contraception in similar fashion to the practice of brushing their teeth. Perhaps no other serious evil has ever been so successfully portrayed as innocuous and normal among Catholics as has this evil.
One can hardly be blamed for thinking there has been, in fact, a concerted effort—nigh unto a conspiracy—to withhold the truth and deceive the people of God on the subject of contraception; that it is grave matter, that it is an intrinsic evil, and furthermore that it is intimately connected to abortion, another grave evil which it fuels.
And wonder we must, whether such a grave evil which has gone viral in a society for more than a generation can persist without a likewise grave consequence to that society? Can a sin be called mortal if it is not truly deadly in its outcome and consequences, regardless of the spurious claim that almost nobody knows that it’s evil nor that they are a part of the evil, nor that their actions comprise and/or feed that evil? Instead, look at the very real consequences: a demographic nightmare faced by our aging society and the emptying of pew and church.
Thus, every hour of every day of every year, evil is having the last word in our parishes; and through various strategies as well as outright silence, Bishops throughout the land—with shockingly few exceptions—are failing to expose this evil. It is being ignored in every practical sense, to the detriment and collapse of our civilization. Accordingly, we witness daily the wholesale commission of objectively evil acts by a vast majority of the baptized on a global scale: a staggering level and intensity of evil activity amongst God’s people that must quite literally provoke outrage in Heaven and offend Almighty God grievously.
The failure of too many of our shepherds in this regard is so profound, so flagrant, so reprehensible as to be monstrous, even diabolical. The shepherds commissioned to watch over our souls have been silent, those called to be accountable as our chief help to holiness have instead risked our very souls and help to sustain countless outrages against the holy Person of God Himself. The supreme law of the Church has been violated and the constant teaching of Holy Mother Church has been treated with utmost contempt.
Apart from contraception, one wonders: To what other secret evils are we succumbing under the leadership of such men?
What Unworthy Bishops Fear Most
What accounts then for such treacherous actions? Can such Bishops be true shepherds? Can they be worthy successors of the Apostles?
How is it possible? They have not continued in the Word of Christ, no longer are they true disciples; they know not the truth and now live as slaves of sin, out of fellowship with God; they do not the deeds of Christ for they are not the children of Christ; if God were their father, they would listen to the words of Christ; they are of their father the devil. No true shepherd of Christ could do anything but loudly and constantly proclaim from the housetops every instance of evil and danger to the souls of Christ’s sheep.
If indeed the unworthy Bishop yet knows the voice of the Holy Spirit, he himself knows there can be no other conclusion.
"When He, the Spirit of Truth is come, He shall guide you into all truth...`